68: Teaching from a Wheelchair

68: Teaching from a Wheelchair

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Teachers

Teaching from a Wheelchair

The only disability in life is a bad attitude.

~Scott Hamilton

Following her graduation from medical school, Caroline completed her residency program in Obstetrics and Gynecology, got married, and opened her practice. But then her bright future changed when a car accident paralyzed her from the neck down. I received the sad news from my daughter, Lori, who had attended medical school with Caroline.

The tragedy made it difficult for me to teach my third grade class. When I shared the news of the accident, the students wanted to become involved, and they sent letters and colorful pictures to cheer “Dr. Caroline.” They became her pen pals, and some asked questions about her disabilities. “What do you do all day? How do you brush your teeth? Do you ever feel sad?”

Dr. Caroline sent the class a videotape that began with the title, “Howdy, Hillbillies” (our class name the children derived from my name, Mrs. Hill). Then a beaming, articulate Dr. Caroline appeared on the screen with greetings to the students and appreciation for their letters. She was seated in her wheelchair.

For an hour, Dr. Caroline educated her new friends about her disability. She demonstrated the gears on her motorized wheelchair as she spun out of control in “crazy gear number two.” She ventured outside to her handicapped parking space and taught them about the Americans with Disabilities Act that reserved spaces for the disabled. She demonstrated her red van that was equipped to raise and lower her wheelchair and commented, “I think my van looks like a big, red Coke can, don’t you?”

Inside her apartment, she strapped a metal device on her hand that enabled her to pick up a fork and eat. She showed her special computer with equipment modified for her disability so she could send us e-mails, banners, puzzles, and letters. Our class picture was propped against her monitor.

Dr. Caroline continued to be my team teacher for several years. She created a website and asked people around the world to send our class interesting information. Within two months, we had received over 10,000 responses, including one from the governor of Colorado.

All of my classes wished they could see Dr. Caroline in person, so one year she and her husband put their Coke-can van on a train and traveled from Washington D.C. to our school in Clearwater, Florida. The pen pals in my current class, and those from past classes, filled the decorated auditorium to meet their special friend.

Afterward, a teary Dr. Caroline summarized her relationships with the students over the years.

“It seemed that whenever I was having a dreary, gray day, or I was frustrated, something would come from the kids. In their own way, they said exactly what I needed to hear. These kids have given me the reassurance that I belong and am worthwhile, whether it’s for a group of third graders or in an academic medical center. They made me feel like I am a valuable person.”

Dr. Caroline’s life was changed after that tragic car accident, but she has a new career in health care… and a special place in the hearts of her pen pals.

~Miriam Hill

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